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WRiTE CLUB - The Final Bell

When 2020 began I had big plans for WRiTE CLUB. Some minor tweaks for this year, but most of the changes would be for 2021 when the contest will have its tenth anniversary. I was hoping to do something special, and at the same time possibly expand its reach.

Then COVID-19 happened.

Even though this contest is 100% virtual, with no social distancing limitations or other restrictions, the world – specifically the writing world – was in too much upheaval to find a lot of time for it. Participation was down significantly, mostly with contestants, but reader/voters had fallen off as well. I have to admit, this kind of surprised me. I'd have thought a distraction like a writing contest would be just what everyone needed. That's not to say that what was going on in the world didn't deserve our full attention - because it did - but every now and then we need to spend time with the things that make us smile – so we don't forget what it's like.

Looking back over WRiTE CLUB's nine year history, it has always been harder than I thought it should have been to get the writing community – which is massive – engaged. At times it felt like I was pulling teeth to get people to read a pair of 500-word writing samples and choose one that shined brighter than the other. Linking up with the DFW Conference gave it a significant boost, but even that waned after a couple of years. Writers would take interest in its appeal and become one of its champions...for awhile...but eventually they would drift away as well. I tried everything I could think of to encourage reading/voting, Twitter campaigns, Facebook blasts, even offering prizes, but nothing seemed to gain the traction I believe our contestants deserved. This year only served to put a harsh spotlight on an ever-persistent problem.

And then there was other issues.

The foundation of WRiTE CLUB was one simple ingredient – anonymity. This was a WRITING contest, not a popularity contest. I was probably foolish in believing this could work, but I'm an optimist at heart. From time to time voting irregularities in the bouts would popup that cast a shadow over the proceedings. It was obvious (but not provable) that people were being directed to certain bouts - and in some cases certain contestants. I'm sure that type of influence has always been going on - to some degree - but it is much more noticeable (and impactful) when voter participation is low. That's one reason I'm always trying to boost participation. When something like this happens it tarnishes the contest, breeds negative comments, and ultimately drives participants away.

The questionable sportsmanship – combined with the pressure to squeeze water out from a stone – has been a constant strain on me and this year it pushed me to the right edge, even to the point where I considered pulling the plug.

Then I come across a note like 1221bookworm posted where she stated that comments received during the contest last year helped her expand their submission and it was published last February in an online Literary Journal. This – and other stories like this – are the real reason I do WRiTE CLUB and I can't quit on that!

What I do need though, is help. Me and my wife can't keep doing this all by ourselves. In order for it to grow and expand its influence, we need others to step up. And do what, you ask? Things like solicit celebrity judges. Solicit slushpile readers. Solicit more sponsors in order to add more prizes. Find ways to boost our signal online. Monitor for things like voting irregularities. Help compose announcements. The list is endless. If that is something that interest you, then leave a comment below or send me an email to dlh(dot)hammons(at)gmail(dot)com. Why not become a member of the WRiTE CLUB team.

For right now, this is WRiTE CLUB signing off for 2020. We'll be back in 2021 – bigger and better!


WRiTE CLUB 2020 - A Champion Crowned

Let me introduce you to Daniel L. Link, or you may know him as A. Lynne Smithee, our WRiTE CLUB Champion for 2020.

Daniel L. Link lives in Northern California where he writes short stories, novels, and flash fiction. He's an assistant editor of the Gold Man Review. His work has been featured in the HCE Review, the Lowestoft Chronicle, the Eastern Iowa Review, the Penmen Review, the Copperfield Review, the Esthetic Apostle, the Soliloquies Anthology, and others. His first novel, Cry Wolf, is slated for publication late in 2020 with Fawkes Press. Examples of his short stories can be found at Daniel now has a free pass to the 2021 DFW Writers Conference and a $100 Barnes and Noble gift card.  CONGRATS Daniel!

Our 1st runner-up and recipient of a $75 Amazon gift card is proof positive that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Scottish is actually Catherine Link.

Retired and living in Hamilton County Texas, Catherine Link is a painter who teaches private students and sometimes accepts commissions. When Catherine was a teenager, she wrote poetry. Then in the 1990s, she wrote a couple of novels, just to see if she could. Later she found that she enjoyed writing short stories. They are like therapy for her, calming her nerves and taking her away from everyday life for a while. Catherine has had short stories published in Dragon Poet Review, Corner Bar Magazine, Scarlet Leaf Review, and Bewildering Stories.She is married to Robert Link, also an artist and burgeoning writer. They have two grown sons. Douglas, who lives in Waco and enjoys painting, and Daniel, who lives in Northern California. Catherine and Daniel had the pleasure of competing against each other in this year’s contest.

Here's a breakdown of how our celebrity judges voted. Because there was no conference this year and our access to agents was seriously crimped, the number of judges had to be reduced.

The feedback provided have been forwarded to both of the finalist. These writers have proved themselves to be extremely talented and I predict nothing but good things in their literary futures.

There are some other winners we also need to announce. They are - 

Karen Stanley - won the Random Voting prize of a $60 Barnes and Noble gift card.

There were only eight readers who voted in all 27 bouts.  They were -

J Lenni Dorner
Kate Larkindale
Michelle Kadin
Perrin Birk
Required Field Must not be Blank

The prize of  Voting In Every Bout, which is a $40 Barnes and Noble gift card, is Perrin Birk.

J Lenni Dorner - won for the best WRiTE CLUB Promotional Campaign and takes home a $40 Barnes & Noble gift card

Will all the winners please contract me so delivery arrangements can be made.

The contest was a success once again, although COVID made sure it wasn't the record setting year like we've seen previously. There were only ninety-five submissions, but we averaged 42 critiques/votes per bout. On a positive note we did have 39,807 page views while the contest was running, which was only slightly down from last year.

Now that the contest is over we encourage the other writers who made it into the bouts to reveal their true identities in the comments below. People who have read your work really want to keep in touch with you and your work, so why not remove that mask? No pressure though. If you want to remain anonymous, we respect that choice.

Thank you to everyone for making WRiTE CLUB what it is.

WRiTE CLUB 2020 - The Finals

This journey began for 30 writers seven weeks ago and now as it draws to a close we should take a moment and reflect on all of the wonderful writing we've seen. To reach this point in WRiTE CLUB - having your work read and judged by a conglomerate of industry professionals - is no easy task. But then again, it's not supposed to be. Writing is a gift, perfected with hard work, and this contest plays only a small part in drawing that gift out into the light. A hearty WELL DONE to each of the contestants that made it into the ring this year.

The readers/voters have spoken and decided that A. Lynne Smithee and Scottish will face off for the opportunity to be crowned the 2020 WRiTE CLUB Champion. The winner of this final bout (along with the two finalist real identities) will be announced this coming Saturday (6/27).  Both of our finalists have had their 1,000-word samples forwarded to our celebrity judges and those samples are also displayed below. Along with their words, a WRiTE CLUB follower (Nikolai Wisekal - who works as a narrator for audiobooks) has volunteered to turn their submissions into audio files for those of you who might prefer to listen to the samples.

Although the votes/comments will not carry any weight towards deciding a winner, everyone is welcome to leave a vote/critique in the comments. Comments in this round do not count towards the gift card giveaway.

We will also announce the two winners of our random voter giveaways next Saturday as well.

For one last time this year...this guy says it best.

A. Lynne Smithee

Falling Off


What are you going to do next?

It was the question that drove my life. My subscribers peppered me with different variations as the drones buzzed around me like giant fireflies, streaming my life on YouTube twenty-four hours a day.

“Stay tuned,” I told the audience behind the lens. “We’re just getting warmed up.”

I never had the next stunts planned. All I knew was I had to top the last one. After laying in traffic, drinking horse piss, and tattooing a stylized extended middle finger on my forehead, I was at a loss. Something always came to me, though.

My YouTube channel started like thousands of others, me prattling on and playing video games. When I topped a hundred thousand followers, I got sponsors. “People identify with you.” That was true, but it wouldn’t keep them watching. I had to do something special, so I went full access. Twenty-four hours livestream.

Simple pranks got lots of views: streaking through restaurants, punking my family, baiting people into fights. A hundred thousand people subscribed to my channel in one month. Then I started to fall off.

“It’s normal,” a sponsor said. “Everyone has to fall off eventually.”

No twenty-four hour live-streamer had lasted more than four months. They said they’d gotten tired of it, or the attention had been too much, but I knew that was bullshit. They’d fallen off, and they couldn’t stand it.

I couldn’t let that happen. The drones had become my mouthpiece to the world, the commenters on my channel my friends. They were more real to me than anyone in real life.

So I invented the Friday Finale. I promised everyone watching something spectacular to close out the week. The sponsors loved it. The views skyrocketed.

By Thursday I had no idea what I’d do. It came to me at Union Square. There had to be five hundred people there, ice skating and drinking cocoa. It was perfect.

A quick trip to Walgreens and I was ready. I covered myself in fake blood, screamed, and ran onto the rink. I fell, sliding and smearing gore across the ice. When the ambulance appeared, I ran. Ten million views. A hundred thousand new subscribers.

What are you going to do next?

They were desperate to know. I’d drop fake hints and watch my numbers climb, and all I had to do was sit in my apartment and get high. As long as they had Friday Finale, there was no falling off.

I picked up so many new followers the first month of livestreaming, I made twenty grand a week on the ad revenue alone. I hired an assistant to manage my social media and my YouTube content.

Topping myself got tougher every week. I had to get creative. Sometimes I had to break the law. That didn’t bother me. I learned I had a wayward moral compass and a high pain tolerance. Both worked in my favor.

When I got the tattoo I lost most of my sponsors. Only Red Bull had the balls to hang in. Still, people would stop me on the street, pull up their shirts to reveal a mirror-image of the digit on my forehead. None were bold enough to put it anywhere you’d see it, but they had jobs to keep, families to go home to. The stream was my job; the watchers were my family.

Six months in, I’d stuck myself with sewing needles, swallowed broken glass, and torn out two fingernails with pliers. Walking the line between injury and the hospital was tricky. They didn’t allow drones in. Neither did jail, but I’d spent a few nights for joyriding a patrol car, and that hadn’t cost me any subscribers. They waited for me like the drones, hovering patiently until I returned. I lost Red Bull, though. No matter. I’d known it was just a matter of time before those wings were clipped.

The next month my assistant called, told me there’d been a little slippage in the numbers. That’s the word he used, slippage. Not falling off, just a slight dip, like a blip in the stock market or a car salesman’s slump. The words hit me in my core.

My channel’s comments were crammed with suggestions. Swallow a live snake. Jump off a tall building. Light your hair on fire. They were the kind of things I used to laugh at. I wasn’t laughing anymore.

The idea came to me in the shower, a eureka moment that had me singing into the drone’s camera lens. I reached out to my fans for help. They were glad to oblige.

A little internet research told me what I needed to know: the lung capacity of the average twenty-three-year-old, how much oxygen in a cubic yard of air.

The graveyard was just outside the city. Two tall men with stylized middle-finger tattoos dug the hole.

The coffin was big enough to allow three GoPros with night vision. It was lined with red velvet, and as I climbed in I wished I’d worn white. It would play out better onscreen.

It was too dark, too quiet. I missed the buzzing of the drones. It would have been like a lullaby to calm the thundering in my chest.

It didn’t take long for the air to go stale. I coughed. I hammered at the lid of the box. I kicked.

The fear that took me was unlike anything I’d experienced. Branding myself with an iron, driving into a brick wall, nothing compared to this. I screamed until I ran out of air. I blacked out, and all the while the cameras rolled, catching my terror from three sides.

When they pulled me from the coffin they had to resuscitate. I threw up and shook with shock.  I lay back, gulping lungsful of night air. Then I checked YouTube. A million live viewers, and comments scrolling by faster than I could read them.

That was amazing. What are you going to do next?



Blue Fire

“Hi everyone. I’m Lorrie.

I was told this is the largest gathering so far. In the Southwest, anyway. We have a lot of speakers, so I’m going to jump right in.

The reason we are here, The Mysterious Heka. He tells an ordinary story about himself. His real name is Richard Gamal. Born and raised in New Orleans.

Ever since I was ten, I wanted to be magic.’ Not a magician, but magic. That’s how he starts his book. I see most of us have a copy. According to his memoir, he went to every magic show he could find in the States, then traveled Europe and the Middle East picking the brains of what he called real sorcerers. The ones you’ll never see in Vegas, that’s for sure. He found the Biblical, turn a staff into a snake, kind of sorcery that traumatizes kids and gives old folks heart attacks, and I can testify to that. I saw his act three years ago.

Girl’s night out, drinks and a show. My girlfriend Trish scored two free tickets on a radio giveaway. Caller number seven.

A magic show, The Mysterious Heka.

The venue was a black box theater at the college, seating about a seventy-five people in the world’s most uncomfortable folding chairs. No one wanted to sit, so we mingled, asking each other who this guy was. No one knew.

The stage was a raised platform. Lighting and sound equipment was positioned overhead along rails.

Just as we were finishing our beers, colored lights flashed and music blasted through the speakers. The first familiar licks got cheers and whistles, and people danced in the aisles to Sweet Home Alabama. Trish was one of them ‘cause that’s who she was, but I was inhibited, so I just watched.  

Then came a funky mixture of synthesizers and organ music—Andre Previn—music from Rollerball. Most people in the room probably didn’t recognize it. Maybe it was the alcohol, or that rhythm thumping against my primitive brain—I started dancing.   

 A swarthy guy with a captivating smile and an Ankh tattooed on one cheek started dancing with me. He put one hand in the small of my back and it was hot right through my shirt, and I became a different version of myself. My inhibitions were gone, and I got lost in the moment. Then the music ended and the room went dark for maybe two seconds. Poof, my dancing partner had disappeared. Story of my life.  

Trish and I took our seats. Second row, centerstage. I remember her saying how this guy better be good, because we will be able to see every move. We were that close. He walked out smiling. The swarthy guy with the Ankh, which gave me chills.

There was applause, and he put a finger to his lips to quiet us. Then he blew on it and a blue flame appeared on the tip and he acted surprised—making faces, waving his hand comically to put the flame out. Everyone laughed.  

Then, with a graceful flick of his wrist, the flame fell to the floor like a yoyo on a string, bursting into a ball of blue fire. He stomped on it with one foot to put it out, hopping up and down, making funny noises, and we laughed.  

He stumbled and his other foot went into the fire, as if by accident and again, he clowned around pretending to be afraid. We laughed and applauded, having never seen anything like that before.

But the mood changed. The trick appeared to go wrong and he panicked as the fire grew and his shoes started burning. There was an unsure titter from the audience, then silence. A layer of smoke was building over our heads. I could hardly breathe. My body became heavy, dead weight, like the gravity of the Earth had tripled.

That’s when he started screaming. The hem of his slacks caught fire and flames crawled upward, out of control. He continued to scream, convulsing as the fire took his legs. Heat radiated from the stage, causing us to put up our hands, shielding our faces. The stench of burning flesh was nauseating. I could taste it in my mouth. The smoke thickened.

Heka sobbed as his skin blackened and crisped, and we sobbed with him, holding onto each other’s hands, watching the blue fire crawl up his torso, licking his neck.  

Trish was freaking out, asking me if it was a trick, and I didn’t know. My primitive brain spoke to me, telling me this was the real deal, and we had to get the hell out of there. Everyone begged him to stop. People were passing out. We were calling for help. One man began cursing at him, calling the show an abomination.

There were shouts to the light and sound crew above us. Call 911, the Fire Department. Get fire extinguishers before the stage burns, and it spreads, and we all die. But no one up there moved or spoke.

Fully engulfed, his face gone, his hair on fire, Heka was a blue torch. He was all messed up but still standing on his feet. I wondered how that was possible.  

Mercifully, he winked out of sight. How, I have no idea. I had my eyes on him, then he was just gone. The fire died, shrinking down to a flame that morphed into a delicate bubble. It floated upwards over our heads, above the smoke, then burst, taking all light with it.

When the lights returned, Heka was centerstage again. Alive and well. The fire was out, the smoke was gone, but the smell of burnt flesh still hung in the air. He had a blue glow around him, and he radiated heat. He smiled at us, and opened his arms, and we were his.  

There was no applause from the audience this time. Just reverence and fear.”


I'll definitely miss being at the DFW Conference this year, but maybe I'll have an opportunity to say hello in the future!



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